Oral health refers to the state and health of our mouths, including our teeth, tongues, and gums. You may not have thought too much about your oral health in the past, but keeping up good oral hygiene is paramount to good health.
Does the health of your mouth have anything to do with your overall health? Absolutely. The state of your oral health is a direct reflection of how healthy you are in general. Just a peek into a simple swab of saliva can give your doctor loads of information about what’s happening in your body. For instance, the levels of cortisol in our saliva are used to check for stress responses in newborn babies. Small parts of some bone-specific proteins can be useful tools for monitoring bone loss in patients with osteoporosis. There are even certain markers for cancer that are detectable in our saliva.
Through routine saliva tests, we can also measure environmental toxins, illegal drugs, hormones and antibodies which indicate HIV infection or hepatitis, as well as other things. As a matter of fact, being able to detect certain HIV antibodies has brought about the production of user-friendly, commercial saliva test kits. There is even the possibility of saliva testing taking the place of blood testing to diagnose and monitor diseases like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and loads of other infectious diseases.
Saliva acts as one of our body’s chief defenses against organisms that cause disease, like viruses and bacteria. There are antibodies in saliva which attack viral pathogens, such as HIV and the common cold. Proteins found in saliva, called histatins, inhibit a naturally occurring fungus, called Candida albicans, from growing. Candida can grow wild and result in a fungal infection known as oral thrush when the histatins become weakened by an illness such as HIV infection.
Saliva contains enzymes that degrade bacterial membranes, disrupt vital bacterial enzyme systems, and inhibit certain bacteria from growing and metabolizing. All of these things help protect us against disease-causing bacteria.
Although saliva is an important line of defense from certain invaders, it also has some adverse effects on our oral health. Over 500 species of bacteria are active in our mouths at any given time, and these bacteria form dental plaque, which is a sticky film that clings to our teeth and causes health problems.
For these reasons, maintaining good oral health is a very important part of hygiene and staying healthy. Regularly brushing your teeth and flossing them helps prevent your teeth from decaying, keeps your breath from smelling foul and even keeps you from developing gum disease and other unpleasant conditions.
Doctors can even pinpoint the symptoms of other systemic conditions and work to fight them at an early stage. Some systemic conditions include the AIDS virus and diabetes, which can manifest in mouth lesions early on.
As we find out more and more about oral health, we find it more and more important for the well-being of our bodies that we take good care of our mouths and teeth.
Oral health diseases
There are a variety of oral health diseases which can develop due to a lack of care and hygiene. These unpleasant diseases can be avoided with the correct maintenance of your oral health. Following are several diseases which occur:
- Cold Sores, also known as fever blisters even though colds and fevers don’t cause cold sores. This virus is usually passed through shared utensils, kissing, or other close contact. You can help ease the discomfort that comes from cold sores and even speed up the healing process through the use of over-the-counter ointments and creams. Cold sores are one of the most common oral health diseases, along with oral cancer, canker sores, bad breath, and TMJ.
- Thrush occurs mostly in elderly adults and babies and is caused by candida yeast. However, certain medications—such as inhaled corticosteroids—antibiotics, diabetes, and a weakened immune system may also allow candida to grow out of control. If you suffer from thrush, be sure not to wipe away the patches as this will trigger soreness. Make sure you visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
- Black Hairy Tongue is a painless condition which shows up when the small bumps we have on our tongues grow long, trapping the bacteria residing in the mouth and causing the tongue to look hairy and black. Smoking, drinking too much tea or coffee, poor oral hygiene, not producing enough saliva, and the use of antibiotics are all possible causes for this condition. Very rarely is medication necessary, and usually a tongue scraper or even just brushing your tongue is enough to get rid of it.
- Canker Sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, usually occur on cheeks, tongues, and gums and last for one or two weeks. There is still no definite known cause for these painful little blisters, but some known triggers include infection, stress, hypersensitivity, hormones, and a lack of certain vitamins. If you suffer from more severe or persistent canker sores, you can treat them with prescription drugs, numbing creams, or dental lasers.
- Leukoplakia occurs as a reaction to irritants, like badly fitting dentures, rough teeth, and smokeless tobacco. It’s generally a painless condition and shows up as white plaques or patches in the mouth which can’t be scraped off. It can also be a precancerous condition. If you persistently have these sorts of patches showing up in your mouth, then a trip to the dentist is highly advisable.
- Lichen Planus is a rare rash that shows up on the inside of the cheeks or tongue as shiny, red bumps or lacy, white patches. The cause of lichen planus is, as of yet, unknown, and in its mild form it doesn’t need any treatment. If it’s causing ulcers or pain, however, topical and oral medication is the best for treating it. It can be chronic and has the capability of increasing the risk of oral cancer. Lichen planus may also have an effect on the scalp, skin, genitals, and nails.
- Geographic Tongue is a condition when some of the small bumps on your tongue are missing and you end up with lowered and raised segments on your tongue, giving your tongue the appearance of a topographical map. These spots can move around, changing their pattern and location within hours or even minutes. It’s a harmless condition which comes and goes, but it can be irritating. In the case of pain, your regular over-the-counter pain medication can help.
- Oral Cancer can manifest in several ways. A mouth sore which doesn’t leave. Unexplained numbness in the neck, mouth, or face. Problems speaking, chewing or swallowing. It’s brought on by smoking both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, heavy drinking, a hereditary history of cancer, and overexposure to the sun. HPV, or human papillomavirus, has been linked to oral cancer. It’s imperative that you see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, as oral cancer is curable if caught early enough.
- TMJ, or temporary joint syndrome, is a problem with the jaw that can cause severe pain in the face, jaw, neck, or ear. It occurs due to grinding or clenching teeth as well as injury. The symptoms include pain, dizziness, headaches, and trouble swallowing. A mouth guard, rest, moist heat, medication, or surgery are all possible treatments for TMJ. Consult your doctor for the best remedy.
- Chipped Teeth can come from biting down on hard candies or ice, grinding and clenching your teeth, and exposing your teeth to extreme temperatures. Chipped teeth can lead to permanent damage in your teeth and should be taken care of before more damage is dealt.
- Amalgam Tattoos are a small blueish-grey “stain” that shows up in the soft parts of your mouth when a miniscule piece of amalgam filling gets stuck in your gum or cheek after dental work. It looks like a little tattoo due to the silver in the amalgam which leaches into the soft tissue of your mouth. These are harmless, but if they change color or grow, they might not be amalgam tattoos and you should check with your dentist to see what it is.
- Gum Disease occurs when bacteria in plaque accumulate along the line of your gums. Gingivitis is stage one. Puffy, red, and bleeding gums are some of the key symptoms. Smoking, stress, and a poor diet and worsen gum disease, but proper oral hygiene can prevent it completely.
- Periodontitis is the next stage of gum infection. The gums recede due to increased inflammation and form pockets between the gums and teeth. These pockets act as traps for plaque, tartar, and food debris which will eventually result in abscesses and infection. Bone damage to the bone supporting your teeth is a result of advanced gum disease, and is one of the chief causes of tooth loss in adults.
- Aspirin Burn occurs when you nestle an aspirin in your cheek, causing the acid in the aspirin to burn a white lesion into your cheek or gums. You can avoid aspirin burn by simple swallowing the tablet and not letting it linger in your mouth.
Maintain your oral health
The key to keeping up good oral health is common sense and good general health.
One of the best ways to look out for your oral hygiene is to brush your teeth two times a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Flossing once a day is also very important and maybe one of the most essential parts of keeping your mouth and teeth healthy.
Check your teeth at the dentist every six months to ensure you don’t have any serious problems.
Staying away from tobacco products will give your teeth longevity and help you avoid multiple health problems, not only in your mouth but for your whole body.
Try and stay away from food and drinks with lots of sugar, and make sure you eat plenty of fibers, fruits and vegetables in order to get the vitamins your body needs. Food like ketchup, barbecue sauce, canned fruits, pasta sauce, flavored yoghurt, soft drinks, and sports drinks are all high in sugar content and will wear away at your teeth.
Good oral health is important for everyone, but even more so for children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Following these guidelines for oral hygiene will keep your mouth healthy and functional and may even eliminate the oral disease from your life completely.